Palestinian Labor in Lebanon: Economic, Sectarian Considerations
The Lebanese Labor Ministry’s recent decision to combat illegal labor has brought back the case of the Palestinian presence in Lebanon to the forefront.
Since the introduction of the illegal labor control plan, Palestinian camps in the country have witnessed large-scale strikes and protests, compelling Labor Minister Kamil Abu Sleiman to reverse his actions.
The minister, for his part, confirmed that he was only implementing the labor law, which his predecessors had failed to execute, adding that the same law granted Palestinian workers many exceptions, taking into account the specificity of their situation.
According to the Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness), the Palestinian labor in Lebanon is divided into three categories. The rich, who brought their wealth from Palestine and are active in the real estate and banking sectors. Most of them have managed to obtain the Lebanese nationality in the early stages.
The second category is that of the educated professionals, most of whom have left the country in the 1950s due to the lack of opportunities, and headed to Europe and the Arabian Gulf.
As for the third class, it is the largest in number and is composed of the labor force, working mainly in seasonal and arduous jobs.
The Palestinian labor force is estimated at 75,000 workers, who are concentrated in difficult work fields such as agriculture, construction, bakeries and fuel stations.
Palestinian and international NGOs, particularly the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), provide employment opportunities for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon through their relief and development programs, including microcredit and income generation projects.
Some Palestinians, according to the National Human Rights Plan on the website of the Lebanese parliament, are also running small craft projects in and around the camps, as well as clinics, pharmacies and unlicensed medical laboratories run by doctors, pharmacists and technicians.
Lebanese political forces emphasize that measures taken by the Ministry of Labor aim to protect the Lebanese workers and give them priority over foreign laborers, as is happening in all countries, especially after the rise of unemployment among the Lebanese to unprecedented levels (about 35 percent).
Fatah movement sources stressed that the Palestinian objections would not rest until the reversal of the ministry’s decision on Palestinian labor.
In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, the sources noted that the majority of Lebanese political parties supported the Palestinian demands, which were explicitly asserted by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Hezbollah and Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
This issue has put the spotlight on the positions of the Christian political blocs. The Lebanese Forces declared their full support for the minister’s plan, while the Kataeb Party stressed “the necessity of applying Lebanese laws to all residents” of the Lebanese territories, “in particular the labor law.”
On the other hand, successive Lebanese governments have not taken any action to address the many crises that beset the camps, whether at the security, social or economic levels.
The only step that was taken in 2017 under the framework of the organization of the Palestinian presence in Lebanon is the general population and housing census in the Palestinian camps and gatherings in Lebanon.
The census was supervised by the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee and completed by the Lebanese and Palestinian central bureaus of statistics.
Today, the Palestinian forces in Lebanon fear that the recent measures taken by the Lebanese Ministry of Labor will lead to a social and security explosion in the camps, which were already under extreme poverty and unemployment rate close to 70 percent, according to Palestinian sources.
In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, researcher in Palestinian affairs, Saqr Abu Fakhr, did not rule out the possibility of a “social explosion inside the camps” if the Lebanese government “did not find an appropriate way out of the crisis.” He noted, however that Palestinian refugees, during their objections in the past few days, have shown a high degree of self-restraint.”